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A Dietitian’s Tips for Healthy Eating During the Holidays

Exercise and Nutrition
Author name: Lee Health

Holiday eating graphic

If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot on your plate during the holidays. But we’re talking food, in this case. All that holiday feasting! Temptations abound. Constantly. Parties and travel can disrupt daily routines, weakening our resolve to eat well. Stress builds. Are we eating too much?

Relax.

Lee Health registered dietitian Aikaterina “Kat” Galeos serves up some chill advice: “If you go overboard or eat something on the naughty list, don’t freak out,” she says. “Get over it and move on.”

Kat says the holiday season isn’t the best time to start counting calories with a vengeance. Instead, she says, “Go into the holiday season with realistic expectations about eating. What we eat is important, but our relationship with what we eat matters, too.

“You don’t need to feel guilt or shame about overindulging. It’s about balance. Eat the wonderful foods you like. But also eat fruits and vegetables and get your daily exercise.”

Kat’s 10 tips to stay on track

  1. Raise your standards. Kat offers the example: “If you go to a party and see a homemade dessert and a store-bought dessert side-by-side—pick the homemade dessert because they’ll be less processed."
  2. A rare food is a specialty: If a food is gourmet or appears only once a year and you love it, then savor a small serving.
  3. Ditch the “all or nothing at all” thinking. This mentality can leave you feeling deprived when it comes to eating. You’ll force yourself to skip something you like, leaving you really hungry and more likely to overeat.
  4. Eat all foods in moderation.
  5. Plan ahead and mentally prepare for well-meaning “food pushers.” Just as coaches help athletes mentally prepare for sports scenarios, dietitians or a trusted friend or family member can help you prepare mentally for when dear old grandma, bless her heart, insists you eat another slice of her fabled pumpkin pie.
  6. Use a smaller plate to reduce the amount of food you’ll have.
  7. Fill your plate with fruits or vegetables before taking any meats and starches.
  8. Take just a small portion of high-calorie items.
  9. Take your time eating your food. Try and chew your food 20 to 30 times before you swallow. This stimulates digestive juices and starts the enzymatic processes of digestion.
  10. Be mindful when you eat. Use all your senses. Your five senses will help connect you with your food, with yourself, and how you feel.

Melomakarona (Greek honey cookies)

For the syrup

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 orange, zested and cut in half
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup honey 
  • 3 cloves

For the cookies

  • 2 cups extra virgin olive oil (or 1 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1 cup grape seed oil/sunflower or canola oil): You can also use butter instead of the grapeseed oil.
  • ½ cup brandy (optional) * You can always add more OJ instead
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Zest of 1-2 oranges
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 7 ½ cups all-purpose flour (You may not use it all)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup to 1 cup walnut halves, finely chopped (chop the walnuts after measuring

Instructions:

  1. Make the syrup. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, sugar, orange, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil over medium-high for 5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and stir in the honey. Set the syrup aside to cool completely (do not remove the cinnamon or orange until you are ready to use the syrup).
  2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the EVOO, brandy, orange juice, orange zest, 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. Mix.
  4. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
  5. Slowly, add the dry flour mixture to the wet olive oil mixture (I added ⅓ of the flour at a time), while mixing with a wooden spoon. Once all the flour has been added, use your hands to knead the dough until smooth (do not overwork the dough).
  6. Prepare a large sheet-pan (or two) and line with parchment paper.
  7. Take about 1 ½ tablespoons of the cookie dough and shape it between your palms into an oval shape (like a small egg). Lightly flatten (do not flatten too much) and set on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat, forming the cookies until you have used up all the dough. Line the cookies in the sheet pan, making sure to leave about ½ inch between them.
  8. In the center of each cookie, lightly press the tines of a fork in a crosshatch pattern. The cookies should flatten a tiny bit in the center (but you should not push so hard the cookies become too flat).
  9. Bake on the center rack of your heated oven for 20 to 25 minutes; the cookies should be golden in color but they should not brown too much.
  10. Remove the orange and cinnamon stick from the syrup.
  11. As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, put them in the cold syrup, flipping them around for about 10-20 seconds.
  12. Allow them to drain on wire rack.
  13. Sprinkle each cookie with a generous pinch of the chopped walnuts (pat the walnuts lightly so they will stick to the cookies).

Aikaterina (Kat) Galeos, RDN, CSG, has been a registered dietitian for 16 years. She holds a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She is a certified specialist in gerontological nutrition and a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She manages the teaching kitchen at Lee heath Coconut Point.

“I grew up in a Greek household and learned to cook and really appreciate home cooking from my mother. I love food, cooking, yoga, running, sweating, and teaching people about nutrition, food, and health.”